Women can swim topless in Berlin’s swimming pools

Berlin’s swimming pool operator clarified that women could swim topless after a woman complained she was refused to swim without a top.

swimming pool
© Clark Tai

Berlin bathing establishments must adapt their house rules in a “gender-fair” way, the Berlin State Office for Equal Treatment and Against Discrimination (LADS) announced on March 9 in a written statement.

A spokeswoman said that the municipal pool operator Berliner Bäderbetriebe (BBB) has now clarified internal instructions to ensure topless swimming is allowed for everyone equally.

In December, a 33-year-old woman was refused, unlike men, to swim in a swimming pool in Berlin because she was topless. But she filed a complaint to the ombudsman’s office responsible for compliance with the anti-discrimination law of the State of Berlin, arguing regulations only prescribed wearing standard swimwear without any gender-specific mentions.

And it turns out the woman interpreted the house rule correctly. It states that people must wear standard swimwear, including burkinis, but prohibits street or everyday clothing. Swimming topless was not forbidden, but until now, house and bathing rules “have been interpreted and handled differently by our guests and depending on the pool,” the Berliner Bäderbetriebe’s spokeswoman said.

Consequently, it becomes clear now that swimming topless is possible for everyone, regardless of gender. The rule applies to indoor and open-air swimming pools and saunas, including lounge areas.

The ombudsperson’s office welcomed the decision “because it establishes equal rights for all Berliners, whether male, female or non-binary and because it also creates legal certainty for the staff,” said Doris Liebscher, the head of the ombudsperson’s office. “Now it is important that the regulation is applied consistently and that no more expulsions or house bans are issued,” she added.

An ombudsman was created in 2020 by the LADS to support people with their rights. Citizens can file complaints to be processed quickly without going to court.

A similar case made headlines in the summer of 2021 when a sunbathing woman was expelled from the Treptower Park in the Berlin district of Treptow-Köpenick because she was topless. It constituted an act of discrimination, according to the ombudsman’s office. However, the Berlin Regional Court in September 2022 dismissed the lawsuit against the State of Berlin asking for financial compensation of 10,000 euros (10,600 dollars).

The park updated its terms of use which now require covering primary sexual organs for all genders. Female breasts are considered secondary sexual organs.

The Berliner Bäder-Betriebe said it apologized in a letter to the woman expelled for the “misunderstanding.”

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